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My Great Pee Experiment [The surprising answer to how much water we should really be drinking]

Posted May 26 2014 2:27am


This is so so true for me. 

Colorado is a desert. A high plains desert, but a desert nonetheless. So why are we having this geography discussion (on a holiday, no less)? Not because I doubt your eremological skillz but because apparently I forgot where I live. It turns out deserts are known for being dry places and for the past year that I’ve lived here, while I’ve been slathering on lotion and chapstick to sooth my dry skin, it seems I’ve neglected my dry innards.

Let me back up: To the bathroom. (All good stories start or end in a bathroom.) Friday I started drinking. Not booze – I’m still a Mormon – but water. Lots and lots and lots of water. I’d noticed that the previous day I’d only drank about 8 ounces of water the whole day even though I’d worked out – and that wasn’t an unusual day for me. I just never feel thirsty. Yet eight measly ounces seemed a little nuts even for me so I Googled how much water someone of my height/weight/activity level should be consuming and ended up with the nice round number of 100 ounces, or about 3 liters a day. So I sucked it down. (Not all at once. That’s dangerous. More on that later.)

And waited.

What was surprising was not what happened next but rather what didn’t happen. I figured with all that water-sucking I should be water-spouting. I should have been a veritable fountain of mellow yellow. Yet nothing happened. So after a couple of hours, I went into the bathroom anyhow, hoping for some kind of Pavlovian response to seeing the toilet. I sat on it. Nada.

I tried thinking of waterfalls, running streams, the Kimye wedding – you know, anything that might inspire me to pee a little. I even considered calling my mom and asking her to bribe me with an M&M to make wee-wee in the potty. If I was a good girl maybe she’d even sing me the pee-pee song! Still no luck. So I got up and went about my day, waiting for a man to want to talk to me about a horse. Never happened. By evening, being the good little hypochondriac I am, I started to worry about my kidneys.

But when I went to Google my symptoms, I noticed something. I felt awesome. Seriously, I felt amazing. Happier, clearer, lighter (which was hilarious because 100 ounces of water, un-peed, equals about six pounds). I also felt thirsty. After 100 ounces, my body wanted even more? I took a small drink of water and went to bed hoping I wasn’t in some kind of hyponatremia-induced euphoria.

I dreamed of peeing. The last time that happened, I actually wet the bed so I panicked and jumped up. (True story: I randomly wet the bed when I was 24. Before that I don’t think it had happened since I was 4. And it hasn’t happened since. To this day I don’t know what the deal was except that anytime I dream about water now I wake up and run to the bathroom.) And I finally let it go! (Let it flow! Let it flow! Can’t hold it in anymore! Let it flow! Let it flow! Turn away and slam the [bathroom] door!) Sorry, had to go there.

Anyhow, when I woke up in the morning I swear my skin looked better and the bags under my eyes were less noticeable. And I still felt really good! So Saturday and Sunday I’ve made sure to drink 100 ounces of water a day and I think it’s really helping. I think I didn’t pee at first because my body, dehydrated for so long, was hoarding the water. Now that I’ve filled up all my cells, it’s stopped being so paranoid.

Raise your hand if at any point during this story you wanted to yell “DUH CHARLOTTE!” Me too. I feel like kind of a dummy.

What’s the number one health and fitness tip we always hear? Say it with me now: Drink more water. Every health and fitness professional everywhere agrees that we need mas agua - in fact, it’s probably the only thing they all agree on. Although how much water we’re all supposed to be drinking has been a subject of much debate recently. When I was growing up I was always told to drink water before you got thirsty because once you were thirsty you were already dehydrated. Which seems like it would be technically true but also a really bad mechanism for survival if our bodies couldn’t figure out what they needed until we were already sick. Then, of course, I got told the “8×8″ rule – drink 8 cups of 8 oz of water a day. This was debunked by a 2002 study published in the American Journal of Physiology—Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology. 

Heinz Valtin, lead author, concluded, “No scientific studies support the “eight x eight” dictum (for healthy adults living in temperate climates and doing mild exercise). In fact, drinking this much or more could be harmful, both in precipitating potentially dangerous hyponatremia and exposure to pollutants, and also in making many people feel guilty for not drinking enough.” (Oh, the guilt!!!)

Oh and who can forget everyone’s favorite your pee should look like light lemonade, not iced tea axiom that induced all of us to break out the paint chips in the bathroom to try and decide if we were producing Limoncello or Summer Sunrise and what exactly that meant for our health. (I don’t know but if it comes out as Poppy, remember you had beets for lunch yesterday. You’re welcome.)

Of course on the flip side, you have people drinking too much water and ending up with hyponatremia, which can be deadly. If you recall, a 28-year-old healthy woman died during the 2007 Boston marathon from “water intoxication.” Yet people often think hyponatremia just means chugging too much water but it really means low sodium levels in the blood. There are several ways to get low sodium levels and drinking excessive water is only one.

Little known fact: When you’re running long distances, especially if you’re not quite trained for them, your body slows your kidneys way down to increase your blood volume to help deal with the damage you’re doing to your skeletal muscles. Your kidneys normally output 800-1000 milliliters an hour. When you’re doing an endurance sport for more than a couple of hours, that can go down to 100 milliliters an hour. Which means that even drinking a small cup of water can push you over the edge into dangerously low levels of sodium. Indeed, a 2005 study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that one sixth of marathon runners develop some degree of hyponatremia.

In fact, according to a study from the Georgetown University Medical Center, most cases of water poisoning do not result from simply drinking too much water. Rather, it is usually a combination of excessive fluid intake and increased secretion of vasopression, an anti-diuretic hormone secreted in times of physical stress (like a marathon or triathlon). 

Have I freaked you out yet?

Obviously too much water is bad, as is too little. Dehydration’s a killer too! So how do you find the sweet spot? Some experts recommend weighing yourself before and after a sweaty workout but without drinking any water so you can then calculate how much water you sweat out per hour and only rehydrate the amount you sweat. (Repeat this little experiment under different conditions so you know your sweat output for a variety of scenarios!) Yeah, too much work for this girl. Which is why the current advice is to simply drink to your thirst. If you’re not thirsty don’t drink.

Unfortunately I think I’m either bad at listening or my body is bad at talking because I clearly needed more water than I was getting and yet I never felt thirsty. I also think that what worked for me in humid Minnesota isn’t working for me in arid Colorado, a fact I forgot to account for. So for now I’m just sticking with a number goal for the day because the difference it’s made in how I feel is, frankly, astonishing. I honestly didn’t know how bad I was feeling until I wasn’t feeling bad anymore! I’d prefer the listen-to-my-body route but for whatever reason that’s not working right now. Hopefully now that I’m getting enough water, my thirst signals will return to normal?

So to all my US readers Happy Memorial Day! And Happy Monday to everyone else! Celebrate with a huge glass of water! Or five!

What’s your policy for water-drinking — thirst, a certain amount, a pee color, number of water bottles full, proximity to a clean bathroom? Anyone else like never ever feel thirsty? Anyone else ever wet the bed as an adult?!

P.S. Speaking of pee, my poor injured cat Luna has peed on our bed TWICE this weekend. Obviously it’s because she’s hurt and traumatized but have you smelled cat pee? HAVE YOU? It is literally the worst. And the smell is impossible to get out! I’ve tried all the enzymatic cleaners, vinegar, everything. Now our mattress is permanently relocated to the garage and we have to buy a new one. I’m sleeping on the couch and my poor husband is on a foam camping mat. Any advice for either helping her pee in her cat box or getting the smell of cat pee out would be much appreciated!



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